| Fitness, Interviews, Lifestyle,

10 Tips for your First Half Marathon from an Olympic Champion

Beatrice Lessi

Learn from the Best

Looking for inspiration for your first competitive run? Then I doubt you can ask tips to someone more suitable than  Stefano Baldini, Olympic champion in the Men’s Marathon in AthensHalf-Marathon World Champion, twice European Champion, 13 times Italian Champion and coming from an Italian Region, Emilia, that is sunny, joyful and open like him.

The 8th of 11 children, himself father of 3 and in constant contact with young people for his job as Coach of the Junior National Team of Athletics, Baldini is an optimist and a social animal.

During his career Stefano ran about 180,000 kilometres in both training and competition covering a distance which is four and a half times as long as the earth’s circumference. And he’s still running! He’s just completed his 8th New York Marathon – for charity, this time.

We don’t change the world with our job – sometimes I need to play down the importance of running because people take it too seriously or want it all too quickly, Baldini says. But a sport competition at any level does help. Being able to give your best is what makes a difference in life, for young people and for everybody. 

10 tips to run your first half marathon

Stefano and Beatrice at the end of the interview in Milan. Photo by Anna Lavezzoli , Annalavezzoli.com

A Chat with Stefano

I asked Baldini  to give our readers some tips to start running for a real competition.

Beatrice: Do we all need to be competitive, also people who are not like that by nature?

Stefano: Of course not everybody is a champion. But competition teaches you to accept defeats. We all learn more from that, than from a victory. A challenge, a disappointment: that’s the moment that teaches you something. We need to get used to handle this pressure, get up again after falling, to constantly improve whatever we are good at.

Beatrice: Where do you keep your Gold Medals?
Stefano: For sure not at home! I hate living in the past, I prefer thinking about the future. My medals are a bit everywhere:  in the Juventus Stadium in Turin,  on a cruise ship, and the Athen’s medal is in a safe. I take it out only on special occasions or for important ceremonies. I don’t want my house to look like a museum.
10 tips to run your first half marathon

Stefano Baldini poses with his Men’s Marathon individual and team gold medal. Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

Beatrice: What’s your typical day?
Stefano: I travel a lot, both for the competitions and for my personal free-lance job. I represent different brands and speak at conferences. I always bring shoes and running gear with me. And in the car I always keep one or two pair of shoes and running clothes; you never know …(he points towards his car and Anna – the photographer – and I would love to check if that’s really true!)
Beatrice: do you prefer training alone or in a group? After all, when you compete you are alone with yourself.
Stefano: Absolutely, but the whole process of getting there requires a lot of people helping you. And most of the time I train much better with other people. My trainings sessions are open to the public and everybody can join. When I do motivational seminars for big companies, I run with the group of attendees before I even start speaking. Running immediately breaks the ice and makes people feel closer. The beauty of a marathon is that absolutely everybody runs exactly the same course. Finally, when you are professional runner, you probably train at least 500 times a year, 12 times in 7 days or so, and spend a lot of time waiting or travelling. It gets boring and repetitive. Being with other people is a huge help for motivation.
Beatrice: What’s your favourite marathon?
Stefano: London – I adore London Marathon. I never won it but I did my personal best twice there, and I was second twice. I love the course and the audience – very knowledgeable too. They kind of adopted me there…as the European against the Africans!
Baldini interview

Stefano and Beatrice in La Scamperia Restaurant in Milan. Photo by Anna Lavezzoli.

The 10 Tips for your First Half-Marathon

 Beatrice: Can you give our readers some practical tips to start running in a real competition, like for example a Half Marathon?
Stefano: Let’s start by where I suggest to invest the most money, and end up with fashion (smiles). Here are my tips:
1. Do a Health Check. Go to a doctor for a check up before starting and make sure you know that your general condition is good.
2. Invest in Good Shoes. This is not a marketing trick: good shoes are really important and one should have at least 4 different pairs of them. When you think about training for a year, 4 pair of shoes are not too many. Go to a specialised shop where an expert can test your running style and consult you personally. As a general guideline one should have:
  • A well supported shoe, a bit heavier (about 300 gr) for long, slow runs;
  • A lighter one for fast trainings or competition;
  • A trail running shoe, to run on trails and enjoying the outdoors;
  • A neutral running shoe (zero-drop, which means rather flat), to stimulate the use of your foot.

Top runners also need really light shoes (about 200 gr) that just last 100 km. Obviously, this shoes are not necessary for a beginner. But they look good to wear with jeans!

3. Gadgets

Look at my wrist – I love my Garmin Forerunner 630. Investing in the right gadgets is a big help for motivations and to monitor your performance.

4. Coach/Training. Online programs can be good enough for a beginner, but having a person who guides you and decides a program for you is ideal and will make it much more likely for you to be remain disciplined and stick to it.

5. Nutrition

In order to support your training you need the right nutrition. A specialist will see what you might be missing in your daily diet, and add supplements. For example you might have little time at lunch, so you will need to take something specific. In theory, a healthy person with good eating habits won’t need anything else. In practice, modern life (lack of time,of fresh ingredients , etc.) makes most of us in need of supplements.

6. Drinking/Salts

Again a part not to underestimate. Get enough fluids before and during your training, and salt if necessary. A nutritionist with help you for this too.

7. Stretching

I do 5 minutes of stretching before running, and 10 after. Don’t forget stretching to prevent injuries and recover faster.

8. Other Sports

Swimming, riding a bike, going to the gym aren’t missed trainings – they are additional trainings, good for your running too. Do alternate sports for best performance.

9. Run Together

Find one or more running companions or join a running club. It’s much more fun and a better level of training.

10. Fashion

There are so many fabrics today, that running without feeling wet or uncomfortable became much easier. Buying something beautiful also helps the ego and therefore your motivation and ultimately your sport performance too. Indulge in sport fashion, if you wish, and have a great competition!

More Marathon Tips

If you are thinking of running your first marathon, here is a complete guide of what to do – just click here.

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